Thursday, April 17, 2008

'50 at 50

That's the goal, to run 2:50 at age 50 at the women's Olympic trials this Sunday in Boston.

For who? My hero, Joan Benoit Samuelson. Olympic Gold medalist in the marathon waay back in 1984 on a scorching hot day, Joanie is going to retire from marathoning in the city where her marathon career started. Joanie may be an Olympic Gold medalist, but she is a rock star to a whole generation of women who got into running because Joanie showed us that we too could do it.

Now most women probably don't remember that up until 1984 there was no women's marathon. In fact, the women's competition stopped at 3000 meters because everyone was sure that our parts were going to fall out if we ran 10 steps further than that. Imagine, all of a sudden a whole pile of vaginas laying on the track. It's crazy, but the conventional wisdom was that distance running could do irreparable harm to a woman's reproductive organs.

So the Women's Distance Festivals were born in protest. I'm sure you've seen them, and maybe have even run them. They were designed to show the IOC that there was an interest world wide in women's distance running. So next time you lace up your shoes at your local WDF and wonder why women need their own race, now you know.

And these WDF races were the catalyst to getting the women's marathon in the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. Little Joan Benoit blew the lid off her celebrated rivals and stole the show on a smoggy, hot LA kind of day. Her American record of 2:21:21, set at Chicago, lasted a lifetime until the new rock star, Deena Kastor finally broke it at London. Joanie wondered why it had taken so long! That time would still win most of the major marathons in the world today.

At age 50 Joanie is going to run her last women's Olympic trials. She has qualified for all of them, run 4 of them (babies do get in the way.) I cant imagine any of the top 50 year old men in this country doing the same. But what is best about her isn't that she can do it, its the style in which she does it, humble and inspiring.

If you have read her book, Running for Women, she tells it like it is. Like how when she first started running, she was so slow and so embarrassed that when a car would pass her, she'd look down like she was looking at flowers or something. I've done that. Knowing that Joanie did it, too, makes it ok. We all have to start somewhere, just like Joanie.

And just like Joanie, we all have to end somewhere. Not end running, but end competition. I wish that I could have gone out with a bang like Joanie. '50 at 50. She's my hero. God speed Joanie!

1 comment:

John P. said...

Karen, Joan has plenty of fans from my gender also. :)

I remember falling for her back then as a kid. I started running back then too and she was an inspiration.

As always, I enjoyed your post.

Imagine 2:50 at 50. wow